[Marxism] Steelworkers help keep uneasy calm in eastern Ukraine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 16 16:37:30 MDT 2014

Washington Post
Steelworkers help keep uneasy calm in eastern Ukraine

By Fredrick Kunkle, Anthony Faiola and Daniela Deane, Updated: Friday, 
May 16, 10:14 AM E-mail the writers

MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Steelworkers employed by eastern Ukraine’s top 
tycoon helped police keep order in some disputed cities Friday as an 
uneasy calm prevailed over the beleaguered country ahead of nationwide 
elections scheduled for May 25.

The unarmed patrols in the cities of Mariupol and Makeyevka by employees 
of companies controlled by Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov were 
intended to restore order a week after fighting broke out for control of 
Mariupol’s police department, according to a spokesman for Akhmetov and 
official statements from his company.

Olesya Zhukovska, 21, became a protest icon in February for tweeting “I 
am dying” after a sniper’s bullet pierced her neck . She talks about her 
injury and her hopes for change.

Olesya Zhukovska, 21, became a protest icon in February for tweeting “I 
am dying” after a sniper’s bullet pierced her neck . She talks about her 
injury and her hopes for change.

Akhmetov, believed to be Ukraine’s richest man, issued a statement 
saying Donetsk should remain part of Ukraine and arguing that 
independence or absorption into Russia would spell economic catastrophe. 
His company, Metinvest, is the most powerful firm in the industrialized 
eastern part of Ukraine.

In the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where at least seven people 
were killed in clashes last week between police and pro-Russian 
militants, a group of unarmed steel workers lounged at a playground 
Friday near the burned-out city hall building, which was flying the flag 
of the separatists’ self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic.” The 
members of one of Akhmetov’s patrols chatted with each other and smoked 
cigarettes, and two of them sat on playground equipment reading books. 
They declined to talk to reporters, saying there were forbidden to do so.

A steady flow of visitors arrived at the scorched shell of Mariupol’s 
police department. Many stood in silence, staring at the walls 
pockmarked with bullet holes and the charred timbers jutting into a blue 
sky where the roof had collapsed. Others looked at a picture of one of 
victims or read their eulogies on sheets of paper taped up near the 
entrance, which was carpeted with flowers and religious icons.

“It really troubled me what happened here, and I often come here,” said 
Oleg Krivolapov, 45, a retired steel worker of the Ilych Factory owned 
by Akhmetov. Krivolapov said the city has been calm since the May 9 
violence. He said he did not know whether the steelworkers’ patrols have 
helped bring peace to Mariupol’s streets. But he said former colleagues 
are part of Metinvest’s patrols, and he believes they will do what they 
can to avoid bloodshed.

As Krivolapov sees it, Akhmetov’s considerable political and economic 
clout could help resolve the crisis by bringing about real change and a 
fair shake for the Donetsk region.

“He has his factories, his industries, a lot of money — he could do a 
lot,” Krivolapov said. “Of course, he should have done some something 

Akhmetov “owns the region’s political parties — that’s what people are 
saying. He financed them. Politically, they could achieve a lot in the 
Verkhovna Rada to prevent bloodshed,” Krivolapov said, referring to the 
national legislature in Kiev.

A tenuous calm has prevailed in eastern Ukraine since ad hoc talks on 
Ukrainian national unity in Kiev earlier this week. Pro-Russian 
separatists did not attend the gathering. British Foreign Secretary 
William Hague nevertheless called the talks, which ended in accusations 
and grandstanding after one session, “clearly successful.”

Hague warned Russia of “wider economic and trade sanctions” if it 
interferes in Ukraine’s planned May 25 presidential and mayoral elections.

There were scattered reports of clashes in eastern Ukraine on Friday, 
including an exchange of gunfire at a checkpoint held by Ukrainian 
national guardsmen near Mariupol. A Ukrainian television news reporter 
said the shootout occurred about 10 p.m. Thursday and lasted about 15 
minutes, pinning down her and her crew. Irina Herasimova, who works for 
Ukraine’s Channel 5 news, said there were no injuries among the 
guardsmen or her crew.

Meanwhile, the head of a militia group backing Kiev’s interim government 
claimed late Thursday that a unit of pro-Ukrainian volunteers has 
retaken control of Velyka Novosilka, the center of a regional district 
about 30 miles southwest of the city of Donetsk.

The Donbas battalion took back control of the local police department 
and seized weapons after a confrontation late Thursday without injuries, 
the commander of the volunteers, Semyon Semenchenko, said in a posting 
on his Facebook page.

He said the group planned to move next on the city itself to remove 
pro-Russian separatists from the Donetsk People’s Republic, who have 
taken over a regional administration building there.

Semenchenko wrote on his Facebook page that the pro-Russian separatist 
police chief had fled. He said his Ukrainian volunteers demanded that 
remaining officers swear a new oath of loyalty to Ukraine.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

As the Kiev talks were underway, officials in Moscow appeared to soften 
their stance, at least publicly. In an interview with Bloomberg 
Television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia has “no 
intention” of sending troops into eastern Ukraine, despite Western fears 
that it will invade after the presidential and mayoral elections set for 
this month.

Although Western nations have threatened additional sanctions against 
Russia, Hague said they were not willing to give an “exact definition” 
of what would provoke them or what form the measures would take.

“If we set a red line, Russia knows that it can go up to that red line,” 
he said at a news conference. “Efforts to disrupt the election may take 
many different forms. That’s not something we can define in advance,” 
but it will be “what determines the attitude of the whole Western world” 
toward Russia.

In separate comments, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said, “If Russia 
or its proxies disrupt the election, the United States and those 
countries represented here today in the European Union will impose 
sectoral economic sanctions as a result.”

Asked whether the West would be watching for direct Russian interference 
or hold Moscow accountable for the actions of the pro-Russian 
separatists, Kerry said a judgment would be made based on “attitude and 

“I’m not going to start laying out the whole series of definitions 
except to say to you that it is clear what proxies mean,” he said.

A senior State Department official said earlier that “we have been 
pretty clear in being able to pinpoint and expose . . . when Moscow’s 
hand has been behind past disruptions.” The official added, “We’ve seen 
it in the past — we’ve seen personnel, we’ve seen money, we’ve seen 
weapons, we’ve seen coordination, we’ve seen actual actors. So all of 
those things are possible again in this context.”

The official also made clear that threatened sanctions on what President 
Obama has said would be “sectors” of the Russian economy — including 
mining, defense, energy and banking — are not likely to be imposed 
across the board, as in Iran. Instead, the official said, they would 
“use a scalpel rather than a hammer,” focusing on “new investment” in 
sanctioned sectors.

The European Union, whose members have far more substantial stakes in 
the Russian economy than does the United States, has balked at sectoral 
sanctions and complained that they would unfairly target Europe.

France has indicated that it is likely to go ahead with a $1.6 billion 
contract, signed in 2009 for delivery this year and next, to supply 
Russia with two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, despite U.S. 
disapproval. Other European countries are concerned about existing 
contracts for the supply of Russian natural gas.

The official declined to specify whether existing contracts would be 
exempted from new sanctions.

But the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide 
background information to reporters, described a far more limited 
approach than Obama did in his March 20 announcement that he had signed 
an executive order authorizing sectoral sanctions. Kerry, too, was far 
more expansive in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee last month, saying that “the United States and our closest 
partners are united in this effort despite the costs and willing to put 
in effect tough new sanctions . . . on key sectors of the Russian economy.”

“In energy, banking, mining — they’re all on the table . . . if Russia 
does not end its pressure and aggression on Ukraine.”

On Thursday, Kerry would not announce “what the precise sanctions are” 
but said the administration has decided on them, and that U.S. officials 
have continued working with the Europeans to ensure they are on board.

“I’m not going to get into characterizations of scalpel or a 
sledgehammer or whatever, except to say to you that they’re effective, 
and if they have to go into effect, they will have an impact,” Kerry said.

Faiola reported from Kiev and Deane from London.

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